I travel worldwide doing wildlife photography and also teach photo lessons. I’m often asked, “How do you go through so many photos so fast?” and, “How do you know which ones to keep and which ones to delete?” When I came back from Africa I had 8700 pics and 6 hours of video. My wife had another 8600. I processed them all in under a week at no more than 4-5 hours per day. This is what I teach; the idea is simple…pick the obvious keepers and then go through a “ruling out” process on the rest.
The 5 types of shots
There are 5 types of pictures; ‘BAD’, ‘documentation’, ‘keepers’, ‘unique’, and ‘GREAT’.
1. ‘Documentation’ shots are those that help you remember your trip even though the pic may be horrible. We were traveling through Alaska and a major goal of mine was to see a Gyrfalcon. We searched everywhere with no luck. On the last day I became so exhausted I fell asleep in the car. We had been traveling for over an hour when I suddenly woke up. In the half second that I woke and looked outside, I caught glimpse of a shape hurtling behind the rocks and yelled, “STOP!” where we had just enough time to get out and view 2 Gyrfalcons soaring high before they went out of sight. Just before they disappeared, I was able to fire off a shot. It is a flat out terrible shot, but I keep it because it ‘documents’ my memory of seeing it.
2. ‘Unique’ ones are the ones that you aren’t sure what to do with, but you have a gut feeling you shouldn’t delete it. I have a pic from Africa of a blurry forest and the glimpse of a hawk’s feet and tail in it. I had a feeling that I shouldn’t delete it. After finding it a couple years later, I played with it and turned it into a really great pic that I now use in my classes to demonstrate motion. It was just one of those unusual kind of shots and falls under the ‘unique’ category.
3. ‘GREAT’ shots are obvious. They jump right out at you immediately. You spend extra time focusing on the right editing for them and they are the kind of shots you can’t wait to print and frame.
4. ‘Bad’ pics are just that. They are either simply bad or there are others that are clearly better.
5. ‘Keepers’ are the in-between. They aren’t “great” shots, but they aren’t bad either. You feel bad when you go to hit the delete button because you swear in your head you can use it at some time.
How to you choose what images to keep:
I use Lightroom, so this method works well using the flagging. I go through first and black flag, then delete all the ‘bad’ ones. I delete them right away so they don’t confuse me in the batch when trying to categorize the others. Then I go through and white flag all the ‘great’ ones and the ‘unique’ ones. The ‘keepers’ are the hardest. There are usually 10-50 of the same thing you have to look at side by side. I always look at the eyes first and black flag images where the eyes aren’t the cleanest or are off angle. Then I look at lighting, color, and composition and do a comparison, black flagging the ones I’ve ruled out. I then pick just 2-3 that are the best out of the leftovers and they become ‘keepers’ and I black flag the ones that didn’t make the cut. Now I delete all black flagged pics.
What’s left are white flagged ‘great’ and ‘unique’ photos, and un-flagged ‘keepers’. Now I just turn the filter on to show only the flagged photos. I go through and edit them, then export them to my ‘edited’ folder. Now I have two folders; the original folder which has the raw images which contain all ‘great’, ‘unique’, and ‘keeper’ shots, and the edited folder with all the shots that have received post-production editing, including those down-sized for the internet.
When you travel a lot and often come home with 20,000 shots as you are leaving for your next trip, it’s important to develop a sound system in choosing, deleting, and editing.